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which constitute vital godliness",-it is from these convictions, that I have been led to enter so fully into the subject; and I shall deem myself abundantly recompensed if, under the blessing of God, my present labours should contribute to diffuse the spread of those principles, which are rapidly gaining ground, and which I trust another generation will see generally prevalent among those who make the Scriptures their ultimate rule of faith and practice.
(*) See a very excellent paper, entitled, A View of Unitarianism as connected with Vital Godliness, in The Monthly Repository, vol. II. p. 77. If the length would permit, E should rejoice to make it a part of this volume.
Respecting the Introduction of Luke's Gospel.
THAT the Introduction to Matthew's Gospel was not originally a part of the Gospel, appears to me highly probable from the considerations stated in note (*), p. 19. If this be given up, as not really written by Matthew, and consequently of no authority, all those arguments against the Introduction of Luke, which are derived from comparing it with the Introduction to Matthew 2, fall to the ground at once; and we have only to consider the external evidence against it, and that presumptive evidence which the contents themselves afford.
As to the external evidence against the genuineness of the Introduction, it appears to me very slight. We have only the judgement of Marcion, who lived, however, in the early part of the 2d century, without know. ing the grounds of his judgement, to enable us to ascertain its value; and though, from the circumstance that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, we can account for the incorporation of the Introduction with it, yet, as far as I can perceive, we can show no probable way in which the Introduction of Luke could have become incorporated with his Gospel, so as to have been early, extensively, and universally received as a part of it, if it had not really been written by Luke.
a The chief difficulty with respect to the census spoken of in Luke ii. 1, arises from the supposition, founded solely on the Introduction to Matthew, that our Lord was born in the reign of Herod.-That the decree of Augustus was probably issued after the death of Herod, and that it was not fully put into exccution, ste The Monthly Repository for January 1811
There are certainly several internal difficulties in this portion of Luke's Gospel, independently of the Introduction to Matthew; but there is only one of them which can weigh much against the great body of external evidence,-I mean the contradiction which there is between the narrative contained in ch. i. 26—38, (if the common interpretation of it be the true one,) and various expressions in the writings of Luke and in other parts of the New Testament. The appearance of contradiction, however, chiefly arises from interpreting the words of the Angel (as Luke has represented them in his Greek translation of them) by the assertions of the Introduction to Matthew, instead of interpreting them by Luke's own expressions, and the declarations of his friend and master the Apostle Paul. If the passage be genuine, there can in this case be no real contradiction; and if, on the other hand, it will admit of a just interpretation, independently of the meaning assigned to it from the Introduction to Matthew, then the supposed contradiction affords no ground for giving up the genuineness of it.
It appears to me that the following is the real import of the passage. The Angel, after his salutation, perceiving Mary troubled at his words, encourages her with the declaration that she was (or, would be) the object of divine favour. He then proceeds to the purpose of his mission, telling her that she would conceive and bring forth a son, whose naine he was to call Jesus, and of whom he declares, He shall be great, and shall be called Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.' Mary obviously understood the Angel to mean, that she should immediately conceive, and replies, How shall this be, since I
Mary's mind was in a state of agitation, and the words of the Angel, even as represented in our own language, might lead her to this expectation; but it would still more caused by the ambiguity of the Hebrew language, which having no regular present, often expresses the present by the future.
e If Mary were not of the family of David, (and we have
know not man?' The Angel probably knew no more than what he had already communicated; at least he says no more. He had told her (vs. 28,) that the Lord would be with her; he now again assures her of the special protection and blessing of God, The holy spirit will come upon thee, and the power of the Most High will overshadow theed; therefore also that holy child which
no ground in the Scriptures to suppose that she was,) the diffi. -culty which she manifests might arise from at least three considerations: The improbability that the child of one so poor should ever be king of Israel, especially in the then circumstances of her nation; the impossibility of her conceiving at once in the course of nature; and the impossibility of her offspring being the descendant of David, if she conceived without the intervention of man.
Whatever is the meaning of the second clause of vs. 35, 'the power of the Most High will overshadow thee,' it is reasonable to suppose, from the structure of the Hebrew language and from the force of the words themselves, that the first clause, the holy spirit will come upon thee,' has the same general import. The mode of expression in Acts i. 8, clearly shows that the words of this clause have no peculiar reference to the supposed exertion of divine influence; they merely imply generally, the special operation of divine power: the second clause more particularly specifies the manner of that operation, that the power of God would be employed in protecting her. It appears to me impossible to read Ps. xci. and cxxi. without perceiving that the mode of expression in the second clause is peculiarly appropriate to the protecting power of the Supreme Being. In xci. 1, the Psalmist says,
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty,' and in vs. 4, He' shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust, where the Septuagint has Εν τοις μεταφρενείς αυτού
The chief difficulty of this interpretation is respecting the reference of d, therefore. It may be taken two ways, both independent of the common interpretation. 1. We may consider the words of the Angel as elliptical, implying what Mary's question suggested. She had said, How shall this. be the Angel replies, Thou shalt be under the special providence of the Most High,-plainly implying that therefore these things should come to pass. Every Greek scholar knows that the particles of inference very frequently refer, not to
shall be born of thee shall be called Son of God :' as if he had said, Doubt not that all will happen as I have toid thee; the powerful agency of the Most High will be thy safeguard, and He will bring about' those purposes which I have declared unto thee; wherefore thy holy offspring shall be called Son of God,' shall be designated as one peculiarly the object of the divine care and concern, peculiarly honoured with the divine favour, and specially appointed by God to a glorious and important commission. The Angel then refers her to the miracu lous event which had recently taken place in her own family, as a pledge that God would accomplish His purposes respecting her and hers; and Mary, still apparently uncertain how they were to be accomplished, expresses her pious submission to the disposals of God.
If this interpretation (or any other which does not suppose that the conception of Jesus was miraculous) be justifiable as far as the passage itself is concerned, this is all which is requisite, for every external consideration is in favour of it. The people at large, and even those who lived at Nazareth, regarded him as the son of Joseph: his early disciples regarded him as the son of Joseph it was universally expected among the Jews that the Messiah would be of the family of Davidh; Jesus
what is actually said, but to what is implied; and in this case therefore may refer to what is obviously implied by the declaration of the Angel, viz. that all would happen as he had said. Upon this mode of interpretation, nothing is added to what the Angel had before said: Since he shall be the Messiah, he shall be called Son of God.-2. The word therefore may refer solely to the last declaration of the Angel. Since on account of her offspring, who was to fill so important a station, Mary was to be under the special protection of God,since he was to be so much the peculiar object of the divine care and favour, that even before his birth he should be preserved from evil,-on this account also, do nai, (as well as on account of his exalted designation,) he should be called Som of God.
John vi. 42. Luke iv. 22.
& John i. 45.
Matt. xiii. 55